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Landlessness is the quality or state of being without land, without access to land, or without having private ownership of land. Although overlapping considerably, landlessness is not a necessary condition of poverty. In modern capitalist societies, individuals may not necessarily privately own land yet still possess the capital to obtain an excess of what is necessary to sustain themselves, such as wealthy individuals who rent expensive high-rise apartments in major urban centers. As such, landlessness may not exist as an immediate threat to their survival or quality of life.[1] This minority of landless individuals as sometimes been referred to as the "landless rich."[2][3][4] However, for the majority of landless people, including the urban poor and those displaced into conditions of rural-to-urban migration, their condition of landlessness is also one of impoverishment, being without the capital to meet their basic necessities nor the land to grow their own food, keep animals, or sustain themselves. During times of economic prosperity in modern capitalist societies, the liabilities of landlessness may not be noticeable, especially to the wealthy, but during times of economic failure and rising unemployment, the liabilities of landlessness become more visible.[1][5]

Indigenous Landlessness[edit]

Landlessness has since been identified as "one of the main causes of poverty amongst Indigenous peoples, particularly Indigenous women, making land rights critical to the alleviation of Indigenous poverty."[6] Indigenous people throughout the world have been displaced from their traditional lands as a result of settler colonialism, corporate imperialism, war, logging and mining, and even land conservation efforts, which has increased their social marginalization, lack of access to basic social services, and chronic poverty.[6][7][8] According to colonial logics, Indigenous people were not able to exercise their territorial sovereignty.[9] Indigenous peoples in the United States without a territory or a reservation, such as the Oklahoma Choctaws and the Winnemem Wintu, are nations without a land base, which affects their ability to assert sovereignty and self-determination while also leading directly to the loss of language, culture, and traditions.[10][11] Māori in New Zealand have recognized how Indigenous homelessness is inextricably connected with landlessness as a result of the colonial acquisition of Indigenous resources to support European settlement.[8]

Landlessness in Rural Economies[edit]

Characteristics of Landlessness in Rural Economies[edit]

Landlessness can be defined as the lack of access to or absence of adequate land to provide basic needs and fulfillment of human rights.[12][13][14] A rural household is generally categorized as landless if it does not have land outside of residential or rented land.[12] Landlessness is usually also a manifestation of other societal problems such as poverty, insecurity, powerlessness, and inequality.[15][16]

In agrarian economies, land is the primary source of income and employment for rural populations.[17][15] As such, ownership of and access to land is a major determinant of "economic solvency, social power structure, and hierarchy[15]" and it is considered to be the most important contributor to poverty for rural households.[17] The rural landless are separated from means of production[12] and become dependent on non-agricultural sources of labor[17] which are often inconsistent and offer insufficiently low wages.[12][18] As a result, they continue to be unable to access adequate land due to the lack of social and fiscal power and are confined to the poorest segments of society.[12]

Causes of Landlessness in Rural Economies[edit]

There are two main assumptions associated with the rapid rise of landlessness in rural economies over the past few decades.[15][12] The first assumption stipulates that certain socio-economic circumstances such as low agricultural productivity, inequality, and colonialism would exacerbate peasant class differentiation. Therefore, poverty and landlessness increase in tandem.[12][14] Low agricultural productivity is a concern especially in areas with land scarcity such as in certain parts of Asia, where the lower the productivity of land, the more land is required to provide an adequate level of living.[14] Inequitable social structures often characterize rural landscapes in underdeveloped countries. Corporate and commercial actors control large tracts of productive land, increasing the severity of landlessness and near-landlessness. This polarization continues to increase, exacerbating inequality and conflict.[19] Colonialism has direct consequences on landlessness, where it undermines existing social and organizational structures and generally enables exploitative land management practices.[14][20][16] The second assumption stipulates that rising landlessness signifies a divergence from farming and the emergence of non-agricultural economic opportunities. In this scenario, farming households can choose to sell their land to explore new opportunities, in which case rising landlessness can be associated with falling poverty.[14][12]

Grassroots Activism[edit]

Various grassroots movements have emerged in response to escalating corruption, discrimination, and exploitative labor conditions. Notable movements and organizations include the Landless People's Movement in South Africa, the Landless Workers' Movement in Brazil, the 2020–2021 Indian farmers' protest, and the Asian Peasant Coalition. [21][22][23]

Day of the Landless[edit]

The Day of the Landless on March 29 is inaugurated by the Asian Peasant Coalition to raise awareness and advocate for land rights for rural workers across Asia.[24]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Berry, Wendell (2010). What Matters? Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth. Counterpoint. pp. 23–24. ISBN 9781582436708.
  2. Proto, Eugene (2007). "Land and the transition from a dual to a modern economy". Journal of Development Economics. 83: 4–5. doi:10.1016/j.jdeveco.2005.11.004.
  3. "The Pope-Hartford Garage, St. Louis". Cycle and Automobile Trade Journal. Chilton Company. 15: 141. 1911.
  4. Monograph Series. University of California: Deccan College Post-graduate and Research Institute. 1968. p. 190.
  5. Forni, Nadia (2003). Fiorillo, Ciro; Vercueil, Jacques (eds.). Syrian Agriculture at the Crossroads. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Policy Assistance Division. pp. 329–330. ISBN 9789251049907.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Gender and Human Rights in the Commonwealth: Some Critical Issues for Action in the Decade 2005-2015. Commonwealth Secretariat. 2004. p. 258. ISBN 9780850928082.
  7. Vinding, Diana (2004). The Indigenous World 2004. IWGIA. p. 394. ISBN 9788790730833.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Brown, Deidre (2016). "Tūrangawaewae Kore: Nowhere to Stand". In Peters, Evelyn; Christensen, Julia (eds.). Indigenous Homelessness: Perspectives from Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. University of Manitoba Press. ISBN 9780887555268.
  9. Simala, Kenneth Inyani (2014). El-Affendi, Abdelwahab (ed.). Genocidal Nightmares: Narratives of Insecurity and the Logic of Mass Atrocities. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 97–98. ISBN 9781628920734.
  10. Akers, Donna (2013). Culture and Customs of the Choctaw Indians. ABC-CLIO. p. 151. ISBN 9780313364020.
  11. "Resolution Chapter 128". Statutes of California and Digests of Measures 2008. University of California. 4: 5857. 2008.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 12.6 12.7 Ravallion, Martin; Van De Walle, Dominique (2008-10-01). "Does rising landlessness signal success or failure for Vietnam's agrarian transition?". Journal of Development Economics. 87 (2): 191–209. doi:10.1016/j.jdeveco.2007.03.003. ISSN 0304-3878.
  13. Shrestha, Nanda R. (2019-04-10), "The Politics of Land, Spontaneous Settlement, and the Prospect of Agrarian Revolution?", Landlessness and Migration in Nepal, Routledge, pp. 224–257, doi:10.4324/9780429042690-7, ISBN 978-0-429-04269-0, retrieved 2021-04-16
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 Sinha, Radha (1984). Landlessness: A Growing Problem. Food & Agriculture Org. ISBN 9251013721.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 Rahman, Md. Habibur; Manprasert, Somprawin (2006-02-01). "Landlessness and its Impact on Economic Development: A Case Study on Bangladesh". Journal of Social Sciences. 2 (2): 54–60. doi:10.3844/jssp.2006.54.60. ISSN 1549-3652.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Elisabeth, Wickeri (2009). "Land is Life, Land is Power: Landlessness, Exclusion, and Deprivation in Nepal". Fordham International Law Journal. 34.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Anwar, Talat; Qureshi, Sarfraz K.; Ali, Hammad; Ahmad, Munir (2004). "Landlessness and Rural Poverty in Pakistan [with Comments]". The Pakistan Development Review. 43 (4): 855–874. doi:10.30541/v43i4IIpp.855-874. ISSN 0030-9729. JSTOR 41261030.
  18. Jahan, Nilufar; Alauddin, Mohammad (1996-01-01). "Have women lost out in the development process? Some evidence from rural Bangladesh". International Journal of Social Economics. 23 (4/5/6): 370–390. doi:10.1108/03068299610121921. ISSN 0306-8293.
  19. Tait, Saskia (2003). "Property Matters: Synergies and Silences between Land Reform Research and Development Policy". Journal of Public and International Affairs. 14.
  20. Rammohan, K.T. (2008). "Caste and Landlessness in Kerala: Signals from Chengara". Economic and Political Weekly. 43.
  21. Vergara‐Camus, Leandro (2011). "Land, Protest, and Politics: The Landless Movement and the Struggle for Agrarian Reform in Brazil – By Gabriel Ondetti". Journal of Agrarian Change. 11 (1): 129–132. doi:10.1111/j.1471-0366.2010.00292.x. ISSN 1471-0366.
  22. Popular politics in South African cities : unpacking community participation. Claire Bénit-Gbaffou, Human Sciences Research Council. Cape Town, South Africa. 2015. ISBN 978-0-7969-2464-3. OCLC 928364088.CS1 maint: others (link)
  23. "The Asian Peasant Coalition". The Asian Peasant Coalition. Retrieved 2021-04-16.
  24. Ramakant, Bobby (2021). "Day of the Landless sparks call for reform of global food system". The Nation Thailand. Retrieved 2021-04-16.
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